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Erich Honecker - Wikipedia
From onward he was also the country's official head of state as chairman of the State Council following Willi Stoph 's relinquishment of the post. Honecker's political career began in the s when he became an official of the Communist Party of Germany , a position for which he was imprisoned during the Nazi era.
Following World War II , he was freed and soon relaunched his political activities, founding the youth organisation the Free German Youth in and serving as the group's chairman until In , he initiated a political power struggle that led, with Soviet support, to his replacing Walter Ulbricht as First Secretary of the Central Committee and as chairman of the state's National Defense Council.
Under his command, the country adopted a programme of "consumer socialism" and moved toward the international community by normalising relations with West Germany and also becoming a full member of the UN , in what is considered one of his greatest political successes.
As Cold War tensions eased in the late s under the liberalising reforms of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev , Honecker refused all but cosmetic changes to the East German political system , citing the continual hardliner attitudes of Kim Il-sung and Fidel Castro , whose respective regimes of North Korea and Cuba had been critical of reforms.
As anticommunist protests grew, Honecker begged the USSR to intervene and suppress the protests to maintain communist rule in East Germany like the Prague Spring of and the Hungarian Revolution of ; Gorbachev refused. Honecker was forced to resign by his party in October in a bid to improve the government's image before the public. Honecker's eighteen years at the helm of the soon-to-collapse German Democratic Republic came to an end.
Following German reunification , he sought asylum in the Chilean embassy in Moscow in but was extradited back to Germany a year later to stand trial for his role in the human rights abuses committed by the East German government. However, the proceedings were abandoned due to illness and he was freed from custody to travel to join his family in exile in Chile, where he died in May from liver cancer. Honecker was born in Neunkirchen , in what is now Saarland , as the son of Wilhelm Honecker — , a coal miner and political activist ,  who had married Caroline Catharina Weidenhof — in The couple had six children together: This change from the strict rule of Baron von Stumm to French military occupation provided the backdrop for what Wilhelm Honecker understood as proletarian exploitation, and introduced young Erich to communism.
Honecker did not find an apprenticeship immediately after leaving school, but instead worked for a farmer in Pomerania for almost two years. After the Nazi seizure of power in , Communist activities were only possible within Germany undercover; the Saar region however still remained outside the German Reich under a League of Nations mandate.
Honecker was arrested in Essen, Germany but soon released. Like 4, to 8, others, Honecker then fled the region, initially relocating to Paris.
On 28 August he illegally travelled to Berlin under the alias "Marten Tjaden", with a printing press in his luggage. On 3 July he was sentenced to ten years imprisonment for the "preparation of high treason alongside the severe falsification of documents". After several days she persuaded him to hand himself back in and the escape was then covered up by the guard. Honecker spent most of his time in prison under solitary confinement. After the liberation of the prisons by advancing Soviet troops on 27 April , Honecker remained in Berlin.
In later interviews and his personal memoirs, Honecker therefore falsified many of the details of his life during this period. In May Honecker was "picked up" by chance in Berlin by Hans Mahle and taken to the Ulbricht Group , a collective of exiled German communists that had returned from the Soviet Union to Germany after the end of the Nazi regime. This ended in a reprimand due to his "undisciplined conduct" in fleeing from prison at the start of the year, an action which was debated upon it jeopardizing the other communist inmates.
On 7 October the German Democratic Republic was formed with the adoption of a new constitution , establishing a political system similar to that of the Soviet Union.
During the internal party unrest following the suppressed uprising of June , Honecker sided with First Secretary Walter Ulbricht, despite the majority of the Politburo attempting to dispose Ulbricht in favour of Rudolf Herrnstadt.
After returning to East Germany in Honecker became a fully-fledged member of the Politburo, taking over responsibility for military and security issues. Under Honecker's leadership, East Germany adopted a programme of "consumer socialism", which resulted in a marked improvement in living standards already the highest among the Eastern bloc countries. More attention was placed on the availability of consumer goods, and the construction of new housing was accelerated, with Honecker promising to "settle the housing problem as an issue of social relevance".
While brought the World Festival of Youth and Students to East Berlin , soon dissident artists such as Wolf Biermann were expelled and the Ministry for State Security raised its efforts to suppress political resistance.
Honecker remained committed to the expansion of the Inner German border and the " order to fire " policy along it. Although Honecker remained loyal to the Soviet Union by renouncing the objective of a unified Germany and adopting the "defensive" position of ideological Abgrenzung demarcation , he signed the Basic Treaty between East and West Germany in which sought to normalise relations between the nations.
East Germany also participated in the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe held in Helsinki in , which attempted to improve relations between the West and the Eastern Bloc, and became a full member of the United Nations. In September , he became the first East German head of state to visit West Germany, where he was received with full state honours by West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in an act that seemed to confirm West Germany's acceptance of East Germany's existence.
During this trip he also journeyed to his birthplace in Saarland, where he held an emotional speech in which he spoke of a day when Germans would no longer be separated by borders.
In the late s, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced glasnost and perestroika , reforms to liberalise communism. Frictions between him and Honecker had grown over these policies and numerous additional issues from onward.
At the Warsaw Pact summit on 7—8 July in Bucharest, the Soviet Union reaffirmed its shift from the Brezhnev Doctrine of the limited sovereignty of its member states, and announced "freedom of choice".
Already in May Hungary had begun dismantling its border with Austria , creating the first gap in the so-called Iron Curtain , through which several thousand East Germans quickly fled in hopes of reaching West Germany by way of Austria.
However, after a week, the Hungarians relented and let the refugees pass into Austria, telling their outraged East German counterparts that international treaties on refugees took precedence.
At the time Honecker was sidelined through illness, leaving his colleagues unable to act decisively. He had been taken ill with biliary colic during the Warsaw Pact summit and flown home to East Berlin.
As a result of this operation, Honecker was away from his office until late September Back in office, Honecker had to contend with the rising number and strength of demonstrations across East Germany that had first been sparked by reports in the West German media of fraudulent results in local elections in May ,   the same results he had labelled a "convincing reflection" of the populace's faith in his leadership.
Several thousand East Germans tried to go to West Germany by way of Czechoslovakia , only to have that government bar them from passing. Several thousand of them headed straight for the West German embassy in Prague and demanded safe passage to West Germany. With some reluctance, Honecker allowed them to go—but forced them to go back through East Germany on sealed trains and stripped them of their East German citizenship.
As unrest visibly grew, large numbers began fleeing the country through the West German embassies in Prague and Budapest and over the borders of the "socialist brother" states. East Germany was now not only behind the Iron Curtain to the West, but also cordoned off from most other Eastern bloc states. On 6—7 October the national celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the East German state took place with Gorbachev in attendance.
As the reform movement spread throughout Central and Eastern Europe, mass demonstrations against the East German government erupted, most prominently in Leipzig —the first of several demonstrations which took place on Monday nights across the country. In response, an elite paratroop unit was dispatched to Leipzig—almost certainly on Honecker's orders, since he was commander-in-chief of the army. A bloodbath was only averted when local party officials themselves ordered the troops to pull back.
In the following week, Honecker faced a torrent of criticism. This gave his Politburo comrades the impetus they needed to replace him. After a crisis meeting of the Politburo on 10—11 October , Honecker's planned state visit to Denmark was cancelled and, despite his resistance, at the insistence of the regime's number-two man, Egon Krenz , a public statement was issued that called for "suggestions for attractive socialism".
The sitting of the SED Central Committee planned for the end of November was pulled forward a week, with the most urgent item on the agenda now being the composition of the Politburo. Krenz and Mielke attempted by telephone on the night of 16 October to win other Politburo members over to remove Honecker.
All those present then spoke, in turn, but none in favour of Honecker. Communist rule in East Germany only survived that of Honecker by two months. On 1 December, its guaranteed right to rule was deleted from the East German constitution.
Two days later he was expelled from the SED along with other former officials. During November the People's Chamber had already set up a committee to investigate corruption and abuses of office, with Honecker being alleged to have received annual donations from the National Academy of Architecture of around 20, marks as an "honorary member".
The district court had annulled the arrest warrant and, due to medical reports, certified him unfit for detention and interrogation. The couple then moved into a three-room living quarters within the Soviet military hospital in Beelitz.
Following German reunification , prosecutors in Berlin issued a further arrest warrant for Honecker in November on charges that he gave the order to fire on escapees at the Inner German border in and had repeatedly reiterated that command most specifically in On 11 December the Honeckers sought refuge in the Chilean Embassy in Moscow, while also applying for political asylum in the Soviet Union.
Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to the dissolution of the Soviet Union on 25 December and ceded all the powers still vested in it to Russian leader Boris Yeltsin. Russian authorities had long been keen on expelling Honecker  — against the wishes of Gorbachev  — and the new government now demanded that he leave the country or else face deportation. During early conflicting reports emerged regarding Honecker's medical state and the existence of liver cancer which either increased or decreased the likelihood of extradition accordingly.
On 12 May , while under protection in the Chilean embassy in Moscow, Honecker, along with several co-defendants, including Erich Mielke , Willi Stoph , Heinz Kessler , Fritz Streletz and Hans Albrecht, was accused in a page indictment of his part in the "collective manslaughter" of 68 people as they attempted to flee East Germany. As of 22 April , well over 1, deaths have been discovered mainly through secret East German documentation: But numbers have risen steadily since unification, as evidence has been gathered from East German records.
Current unofficial estimates put the figure at up to 1, people. Honecker is surely responsible for the deaths of many of the 1, during his long reign, as can be evidenced from his order that "firearms are to be ruthlessly used" to prevent border crossers. The charges were approved by the Berlin District Court on 19 October at the opening of the trial. During his minute-long statement to the court on 3 December , Honecker admitted political responsibility for the building of the Berlin Wall and subsequent deaths at the borders, but claimed he was "without juridical, legal or moral guilt".
Making reference to past trials in Germany against communists and socialists such as Karl Marx and August Bebel , he claimed that the legal process against him was politically motivated and a "show trial" against communism. By the time of the proceedings Honecker was already seriously ill.
Honecker lodged a constitutional complaint to the recently created Berlin Constitutional Court, stating that the decision to proceed violated his fundamental right to human dignity, which was an overriding principle in the Constitution of Berlin, above even the state penal system and criminal justice. The court also refused to commence with the trial related to the indictment of 12 November , and withdrew the second arrest warrant related to these charges.
After a total of days Honecker was released from custody, drawing protests both from victims of the East German regime as well as German political figures.
Honecker flew via Brazil to Santiago , Chile to reunite with his wife and daughter Sonja, who lived there with her son Roberto. Upon his arrival he was greeted by the leaders of the Chilean Communist and Socialist parties. For that I would like to say that our beautiful memories of the German Democratic Republic are testimony of a new and just society.
And we want to always remain loyal to these things". On 29 May , he died of liver cancer at the age of 81 in a terraced house in the La Reina district of Santiago. His funeral, arranged by the Communist Party of Chile , was conducted the following day at central cemetery in Santiago.
Honecker was married three times. By the time of her death, Honecker was already romantically involved with the Free German Youth official Edith Baumann ,  whom he met on a trip to Moscow. In September , Baumann wrote directly to Walter Ulbricht to inform him of her husband's extramarital activity in the hope of him pressuring Honecker to end his relationship with Feist. Honecker's daughter, who divorced Leonardo in grandson and granddaughter still live in Santiago.
Like his predecessor Walter Ulbricht , Honecker ruled with neither charisma nor oratory power. His speeches at party conferences and at diplomatic events showed his awkward and wooden style of delivery, which was parodied by satirists outside East Germany.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For others so named, see Honecker surname. Not to be confused with Eric Honegger.